Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, examining the Redskins’ play without the benefit of access to the team:
With Washington coming out of the bye week and going on the road to face the NFC East-rival Dallas Cowboys, I thought I’d look back to last season to see how Jim Haslett and his Redskins defense found success against Tony Romo. The last time the Redskins played the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, Haslett sent plenty of blitzes that resulted in Romo throwing three interceptions. But which schemes worked best for Washington?
Haslett had a clear intent on testing Romo and the Cowboys’ ability to recognize and pick up blitzers in the “A gap” between the center and the guards. He also attacked the running back in protection and give him tough assignments.
The Redskins’ best and most variable blitz against the Cowboys last year came from this look:
Washington lined up its entire front seven, including both inside linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley Jr., very close to the line of scrimmage. Fletcher and Riley stack behind defensive ends Kedric Golston and Stephen Bowen.
From this look, Haslett called for a couple of different variations. The most aggressive was the “Cover-0”. This blitz matches up every eligible receiver with a single defender. If that receiver stays in to block, the defender has the green light to blitz. If the receiver runs a route, then his defender must cover him.
In Cover-0, the defense sends one more blitzer than the offense should be able to block, but sacrifices a deep safety to help cover. Cover-0 from this look worked well because both inside linebackers attacked the A gap while nose tackle Barry Cofield occupied the center. With the rest of the offensive line also busy with their own blocks, the running back has to step up and block one linebacker while the other is free to run up the middle at Romo.
This caused Romo to get rid of the ball quickly without time to set his feet.
When a quarterback isn’t able to set his feet properly, his throws become inaccurate. Here he overthrew his hot receiver and the ball went straight into the arms of cornerback Richard Crawford for an interception.
Once Dallas saw this look a couple of times, Washington used a variation.
The Redskins would continue to rush both inside linebackers in the A gap, but would drop both outside linebackers into coverage. This allowed Washington to rush five defenders and drop six into coverage, but still generate pressure.
Dallas still couldn’t pick up the blitzers in the A gap, forcing Romo to throw to his check-down target, a running back in the flat. But Romo failed to see outside linebacker Rob Jackson drop into coverage. Jackson jumped in front of the back to make the interception and secure the Redskins victory, but it was a throw Romo was baited into from the earlier looks.
One other variable from this look that I noticed was actually to drop Cofield, the nose tackle, into coverage.
Like the last look, both outside linebackers drop into coverage, but this time Cofield drops with them. That gives the offensive line, particularly the center, something extra to think about. He spent most of the game with Cofield occupying him while Fletcher and Riley ran past. But this time Cofield dropped with Fletcher and Riley still blitzing. It forces the center to adjust his assignment on the fly, which isn’t easy.
Haslett also found success with blitzes from his slot corners.
On this play, Washington brought both the slot corner and the safety to overload the blitz from Romo’s blind side. The safety took left tackle Tyron Smith wide while Bowen stunted inside to create a lane for Josh Wilson to rush free.
Wilson gets a free run and lands a big hit on Romo. The Cowboys quarterback had managed to get the ball away just before the hit arrived, but tight end Jason Witten could only pick up one yard on a third-and-long situation.
The Redskins went back to this blitz again.
This time, Haslett got a little bit more creative, with Ryan Kerrigan and Riley lined up over the left tackle. Riley will rush wide to take on the protection back while Kerrigan will stunt inside against Smith.
Tyron Smith is left with a two-on-one situation, having to choose between blocking Kerrigan inside or Wilson from the outside. In the end, he blocks neither and Romo is pressured into another quick throw. This one falls incomplete.
Those were the Redskins’ most successful blitz packages in Washington’s most recent game against Dallas. It will be interesting to see if Haslett sticks to what worked, or if the Cowboys can adjust and protect their quarterback better.
Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag on Tuesday.
● Thursday’s practice is at 1 p.m. Mike Jones and Mark Maske have news from Redskins Park, including interviews with both coordinators.
More on the Redskins and NFL:
Opening Kick: Should the Redskins appear on ‘Hard Knocks?’